Game Of Thrones: The Books And The Broadcast

Game of Thrones fans eagerly anticipated last night’s episode opening season four. To help put the story in context, and to remind myself of the characters and their back story, I’ve been re-reading the books. Season four begins in the second half of the third book, A Storm of Swords, just after Robb Stark and his forces have been slaughtered at the Red Wedding by the scheming and now-cursed Walder Frey.

Having just read the book prior to last night’s broadcast, you can’t help but notice the differences. That’s not surprising, of course — the books are huge and sprawling, and if you were to faithfully recreate every fight scene, character, and vignette, the series would be impossibly expensive to film and last forever. In a nod to the realities of TV storytelling, some characters and incidents need to be cut. (And, it being HBO, the whorehouse settings, where some random nakedness can be displayed, tend to be accentuated.)

In addition, some of the more subtle aspects of the books and, particularly, the conversations of the characters are changed to direct statements in an effort to make clear, in an instant, a realization that books might convey to a reader after 50 pages of careful writing. Last night’s observation by Jaime Lannister that Cersei Baratheon is drinking more than she had been previously is a good example.

What are some of the other differences? Characters tend to be a bit more pointed on TV. For example, the writers of Game of Thrones never miss a chance to insert the execrable Joffrey Baratheon into a scene and have him say something that reconfirms what a miserable, bullying, craven little bastard he truly is. I don’t mind that, either, because anything that makes that sniveling character easier to hate is fine with me. And, because I read the books after I started to watch the show, I don’t have the disconnect that happens when you read a book first, fix a mental image of the characters in your head, then have to get used to a different person when the story hits the small screen.

I’m glad I re-read A Storm of Swords, which is packed with great scenes and shocking developments. I’m ready for season four, which should be a very wild ride.

A New Game To Enjoy

The Buckeyes’ loss to Wichita State still stings, but at least we’ve got a new Game to command our attention and analysis:  HBO’s Game of Thrones returns tonight.  You can see the extended trailer for Season Three here.

I’ve written before about Game of Thrones — both the HBO series and the epic-length books.  It’s a fantastic show, rich in themes and plots and production values, one that convincingly captures the curious medieval world where seasons can last for decades, dragons fly, and magic is real.  I’m looking forward to the return of characters that I love, and even more to the return of the awful characters that I love to hate.

I’ll relish reigniting my intense loathing for the detestable Joffrey Baratheon, the sadistic, cowardly punk who sits uneasily on the Iron Throne, and his duplicitous, manipulative mother Cersei.  I’ll be interested to see what happens to Jon Snow and the tiny yet hardy band of misfits and castoffs manning The Wall in the far north, working to meet the challenge of the wildlings and the White Walkers.   I’ll root for the honest, loyal Brienne of Tarth, the gigantic female knight who displays more knightly virtues than the men who ridicule her.  And I’ll enjoy becoming reacquainted with Arya, and Bran, and Tyrion, and the complex, interwoven storylines that characterize this series and meeting the new characters that will be introduced this season.

Having read the books, I suppose I could announce “spoilers,” but that’s not fair Game.  I’ll say only that big things, and terrible things, will be happening to the characters we’ve come to know.  Of course, loyal watchers of the show knew that already.  Any show that kills off its main character by public beheading before Season One even ends is not afraid to spin the world of Westeros on its axis.

Lost Magic, Due To Too Much Magic

Kish and I watched the Game of Thrones season finale and came away vaguely disappointed.  It was well-acted and interesting, as always, but vaguely anticlimactic after last week’s big battle — and also unsatisfying because the mystical and magical plot elements seem to be overpowering everything else.

I loved the first season of Game of Thrones because the characters were richly drawn and often highly flawed, the settings were exotic and fascinating, and the intrigue, infighting, and infamous villains made for riveting television.  There was some enchantment and sorcery — such as the mystical bond between the Starks and their wolves — but for the most part the story line focused on families and courtiers vying for power in the nest of vipers that is King’s Landing.  The deaths of leading characters, showing that no one was safe, made the show even more unpredictable and fun.

This year there’s much more magic, and in the finale there was a lot more magic.  There’s a witch who gives birth to black smoke creatures advising one pretender to the throne, a fireproof woman who can command dragons to burn her enemies, the undead marching on civilization, and a swordsman who can change his face.  I recognize that the characters live in a world where such things are more common, but frankly I find the magic kind of boring.  If a character can just command dragons to breathe fire on her enemies, who’s going to be able to stop her?  Where’s the suspense in that?

I’d prefer to see the focus be more on the characters who lack the knack for witchcraft, and who are therefore more vulnerable and interesting than the purveyors of the black arts.  I want to see more of the slippery but apparently decent eunuch who has the best interests of the kingdom at heart, mighty mite Tyrion Lannister, who to his own surprise discovered inner courage and cunning enough to save the kingdom from invasion, the giant female warrior who is devoted to Catelyn Stark, and the unconquerable Arya Stark — among others.  Let me see the nauseating and loathsome Joffrey Baratheon get his much-needed comeuppance by a sword thrust from a brawny arm, and not by the wave of a wizard’s wand.

A Great New Villain In The Game

I thought nobody could surpass Joffrey Baratheon in the despised villain category.  I can’t think of anybody I’d rather see get hit in the side of the face with a well-thrown cow pattie (as happened, deliciously, last episode).  But boy — Theon Greyjoy (very convincingly played by Alfie Allen on HBO’s fabulous series Game of Thrones) is giving Joffrey a run for his money.

Theon’s got a lot of flaws.  He’s a misogynist who treats every woman like a scullery maid — even his sister.  For some odd reason, he has a very exalted opinion of himself, even though he hasn’t accomplished anything.  He’s really kind of an idiot, too.  He’s got bad teeth.  And, even in a time when baths were few and far between, he always seems to be especially soiled.  If you could smell him, you’d expect him to reek.

But the chief fault in this very imperfect man is his stunning ingratitude.  Years ago, the Greyjoys rose up against the crown and were defeated by the Starks.  Theon’s father swore an oath to the late Ned Stark — and gave Stark his young son Theon as a kind of hostage.  The Starks accepted Theon, made him part of the family, and raised him with their own children.  After Ned is beheaded thanks to the insufferable Joffrey Baratheon and the kingdoms go to war, does Theon help the Starks avenge Ned’s death?  Nope!  He goes home, sides with the squirrelly father who gave him away years ago and has made no effort to reestablish contact since, and captures Winterfell while the Starks are in the field against the true enemy.  And he ineptly beheads one of the chief Stark deputies while doing so.  What a tool!

In short, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more despicable ingrate than Theon Greyjoy.  Off with his head!

Momma’s Little Sadist

I didn’t think it was possible, but the writers and producers of Game of Thrones have somehow managed to make the loathsome Joffrey Baratheon even more detestable in the show’s second season.

The little twerp was appalling last year, when his primary negative qualities were cowardice and a ludicrously inflated sense of his own value.  This season we learn that he is a sadist who relishes seeing a galoot drowned in wine, his wife-to-be threatened with impalement by a crossbow bolt and disrobed by a man at arms, and ladies of the evening beaten by belts and maces.  He also has menacingly insulted his mother, who is the only living person who can stand the sight of him.  What’s next for King Joffrey?  Human sacrifice?  Devil worship?  He can’t be killed fast enough.

Joffrey’s development as an even-more-repulsive villain is just one of the storylines that are making this year’s season of Game of Thrones an interesting exercise in character development.  In fact, this show is now all about characters, many of them new.  The Red Witch, who just gave birth to some smoky demon.  The wilding who marries his daughters.  The many would-be kings, and their lusty, controlling would-be queens.

It’s all fascinating — but to me Joffrey Baratheon commands interest in the same way that an apparently devastating roadside accident does.  You just have to stop what you’re doing and crane your neck to see what the hell is going on.  I’m hoping the show’s creative staff have devised a suitably excruciating death for the little jerk, preferably one that involves simultaneous impalement, beheading, and boiling in oil while he cowers and whimpers in abject fear.  Until that happens, I’ll be watching.


Getting Ready To Get Back Into The Game

On April 1, HBO will start to air new episodes of season 2 of Game of Thrones. Kish and I can’t wait.

In case you haven’t watched it, Game of Thrones is a show about a mythical land in a medieval time period. The story revolves around kings and contending noble families, as well as a nomadic tribal society. The characters include a dwarf, an incestuous brother and sister, and an insufferable, cowardly youth who now sits uneasily on the throne.

What makes the show especially tantalizing, however, is the more fantastic elements of the plot lines, including sorcery, dragons, and the mysterious “white walkers” who live outside an enormous Wall somehow erected by the generations past — and who inevitably are going to try to get past the Wall as winter comes.

I’m ready to get back into the storyline and to take a dip into the gore that comes with swordplay, executions, and heads on pikes. I want to finally see the “white walkers” contend with the brave outcasts manning the Wall. I want to see Littlefinger betray a few more people in his high-wire effort to keep his hands on the levers of power. I want to see the newborn dragons in action, commanded by the woman who survived the fires with them. I want to see the Starks kick some Baratheon butt. And, most of all, I want to see the callow Joffrey Baratheon squeal like a stuck pig and beg for his life before getting his head lopped off — preferably by young Arya Stark, who took her sword lessons last year.

Let the Game begin!

On The Joffrey Baratheon Hate Train

Last night we watched the last episode of HBO’s new series Game of Thrones for this season.  We liked this show immediately, and if anything the series has gotten better as it has gone along, following twists and turns and shocking plot developments.  Do we really have to wait for months to see more of this show?

Game of Thrones has one crucial element that can separate a good show from a great one:  a villain who can be hated truly, completely, and without any reservation, a character so foul that you fervently hope they die in the most painful and humiliating way imaginable.  That villain is Joffrey Baratheon.  He is played so convincingly by actor Jack Gleeson that I’m not sure that I’d want to know Gleeson in real life.

Joffrey is a teenage twit who has assumed the Iron Throne, where all of his bad qualities have come to full and appalling flower.  And there are so many of them!  He is a sniveling coward, a sadist, a pretentious deceiver, an arrogant bastard, and a lazy wretch — among countless others.  The only thing that could have made Joffrey more repulsive would be to give him some kind of grotesque physical deformity, like a hairy, oozing sore on his upper lip.  On this show, however, the physical deformities have been reserved for others, like the character who had half his face melted off in a fire.

This show has lots of bad guys — evil Queen Cercei Lannister, her wicked brother Ser Jaime Lannister, a lying witch, untrustworthy manipulator Petyr Baelish, and braying weakling Virserys Targaryen have all been loathsome in their own special ways — but Joffrey Baratheon is the worst of the worst.  I’ll be ready to board the Joffrey hate train when the new season of Game of Thrones starts next spring.